Amherst picks 20 people for its superintendent search committee

Amherst Regional High School

Amherst Regional High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-03-2024 11:00 AM

AMHERST — A 20-member search committee, whose members represent a range of backgrounds and identities, hometowns and work experience, will be responsible for identifying the candidates to become the next superintendent for the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools.

The Union 26 and Regional school committees, which jointly are responsible for overseeing the process, on Tuesday appointed the 20 people who will serve on the search committee, moving forward a list recommended by the Subcommittee for a New Superintendent. That subcommittee culled the applications of 56 people interested in the work during a three-hour meeting on Jan. 17.

Superintendent Michael Morris left the district at the end of August and Doug Slaughter has been serving as interim superintendent since then.

The members of the search committee will be: Markyta Ables-Conyers; Yari Bachand; Inanna Balkin; Robert Boutilier; Maureen Fleming; Yael Fuerst; Alexandra Hebert-Markiewicz; Miguelina Hernandez; Ellen Jedrey-Guidera; Swan Keyes; Swetha Krishnaswamy; José Lugo; Jen Malcolm-Brown; Sarah Marshall; Joe Russavage; Robin Santiago; Martha Toro; Ellisha Walker; Kate Westafer; and Debbie Westmoreland. As voted, Marshall, who chairs the Amherst School Committee, will be a co-chair of the search committee, with the other co-chair to be appointed by the search committee.

The recommendations for appointments were based on efforts to fill each of 40 categories, ranging from identity, such as Black or African American, LBGTQIA+, Hispanic or Latinx, to employment, including being a school district employee, to being a parent/ guardian or resident from one of the four member towns.

While candidate statements were made public, Amherst representative Jennifer Shiao, who has led the Subcommittee of a New Superintendent, said priority was given to ensuring that all of the so-called “boxes” were checked, though which “box” any applicant checked off were kept confidential. Each applicant was assigned a number to keep their identity secret.

Shiao said the only “boxes” not filled are a building principal in the district, someone who identifies as a Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers and a parent/guardian at the Summit Academy.

“With a committee this size, we wanted a mix of people who have a lot of experience doing this, and people who don’t have any experience,” Shiao said.

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Shiao said the first five named to the committee were selected as being the only individuals checking certain boxes. Then, using a Google sheets random function, the other boxes were checked off until as many of the 40 categories were filled as possible. Once 15 members were selected, 36 of the 40 categories were filled, Shiao said, and recognizing that the final four categories had no takers, the final five committee members were chosen randomly from the 41 individuals who had not yet been selected.

“That was heroic,” Marshall said of the process.

The two students who will serve are Bachand and Balkin. Bachand wrote, “I would like to have a better superintendent in which they know how to problem solve and take action and accountability for what they and other people say,” while Balkin, who leads the People Opposed to Sexual Harassment group, wrote about peers “who have been impacted by the administration’s decision making in the past.”

In her statement, Walker, an at large town councilor who has three children in the schools, wrote she would “bring the perspective of a BIPOC, low-income, single parent who is being served by the district,” while Westmoreland noted in her statement her long tenure and service in the central office as director of communication and operations

Those who decline the appointments would be replaced by people who check the “box” in the category they were chosen in, if possible.

The co-chairs will bring recommended finalists when the committee completes its work, with a decision on who to hire and enter into contract negotiations made by the Regional and Union 26 school committees.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.